Air Guitar and the art of Critiquing

Dave Hickey is currently professor of Art Criticism and Theory at Nevada University, Las Vegas.  Born in 1939 he is very much of the beat generation, having written extensively for American publications Rolling Stone, Art News, Art in America, Artforum, Harper’s Magazine, on a variety of music and art subjects.

Air Guitar has a narrative quality, offering glimpses into Hickey’s world, with the occasional cultural reference woven seemlessly into the text.  Whilst a similar format to the work of Siri Hustvedt, the style is less academic, a lighter read.  Base narratives range from Liberace to Waylon Jennings, from the art world portrayed through the lens of the automobile to the role  of the art critic, ‘..the primary virtue and usefulness of criticism resides in precisely its limitations, in the fact that the critic’s fragile linguistic tryst with the visible object is always momentary, ephemeral, and local to its context.’

Reflecting on Critiquing:

Critiquing entered my world last year.  It is not my strong point, so in line with my ‘back to basics’ approach, now is a good time to gain a better understanding of how to improve my skills.

The following are guide lines from Arts Edge.  I am also about to read Stella Cottrell’s Critical Thinking Skills, recommended in the OCA Weekender.


Describe the work without using value words such as “beautiful” or “ugly”:

  • What is the written description on the label or in the program about the work?
  • What is the title and who is (are) the artist(s)?
  • When and where was the work created?
  • Describe the elements of the work (i.e., line movement, light, space).
  • Describe the technical qualities of the work (i.e., tools, materials, instruments).
  • Describe the subject matter. What is it all about? Are there recognizable images?

Describe how the work is organized as a complete composition:

  • How is the work constructed or planned (i.e., acts, movements, lines)?
  • Identify some of the similarities throughout the work (i.e., repetition of lines, two songs in each act).
  • Identify some of the points of emphasis in the work (i.e., specific scene, figure, movement).
  • If the work has subjects or characters, what are the relationships between or among them?

Describe how the work makes you think or feel:

  • Describe the expressive qualities you find in the work. What expressive language would you use to describe the qualities (i.e., tragic, ugly, funny)?
  • Does the work remind you of other things you have experienced (i.e., analogy or metaphor)?
  • How does the work relate to other ideas or events in the world and/or in your other studies?
Judgment or Evaluation

Present your opinion of the work’s success or failure:




Author: susanmilleruk

Watercolour painter living, working and loving Hastings and St Leonards on Sea. MA in Fine Art.

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